While cultural and political leaders in France may be anxious about the arrival of Netflix, it appears French consumers are willing to give the streaming service a look.
And that may have led to a critical new partnership.
Orange, France’s largest telecom company, has said it will begin offering Netflix through its set-top boxes starting in November. In an interview with Le Monde, Orange chief executive Stephane Richard said that negotiations “were tough but have come to a close.”
Earlier this year, Richard had said Orange would not carry Netflix because the company did not want to be a “Trojan horse” for the U.S.-based video streaming service.
Telecom companies and French officials were upset by Netflix’s decision to put its headquarters in Amsterdam where it could avoid strict rules about how much French-language content it must carry and bypass various taxes.
So what changed? Richard didn’t say in the interview. But when Netflix launched on Sept. 15, it announced a deal to be carried by Bouyges Telecom, a smaller Internet and video service. France’s Internet and telecom markets are highly competitive, and Orange may not have wanted to be at a disadvantage to a rival.
However, it’s also noteworthy that Richard’s interview came shortly after another newspaper, Le Figaro, reported that Netflix had signed up 100,000 subscribers in just two weeks in France. That may not sound like a lot on a global basis, but the leading online video service in France, Canal Play, has about 500,000 and has been around for about three years.
One caveat: Netflix is offering the first month of its service for free in France. So we’ll see in mid-October whether there’s enough content in there to convince these new users to stick around and start paying.
The launch in France was part of a broader European expansion last month that included Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, and Luxembourg.
Wooing these new countries is essential for Netflix. While the company has 14 million subscribers overseas compared with 36 million in the U.S., its fastest growth is in these international markets.
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